Why we marched: For the third time, Farrakhan’s call attracts hundreds of thousands

Where to begin…

OK, Let’s start here.
Amidst all the vexed criticism that many have leveled against the Million Man March over the years, as well as its centerpiece and founder, Minister Louis Farrakhan (and for the record, some of that criticism is valid), there are a few things that seem to get tip-toed around:

  • Minister Louis Farrakhan is the only black American leader – or perhaps any American leader – who possesses the amount of clout to summon that many black people to Washington DC (or anywhere else, for that matter) knowing that they will come by the hundreds of thousands.
  • Million Man March 2015 was the third Million Man March (it all began in 1995 with the original March, followed by the 10-Year Anniversary in 2005, and then MMM 2015) which means that Farrakhan has managed to pull off this feat three times in a row, at ten-year intervals. A significant number of MMM 2015 participants weren’t even born during the first march, or were barely making their way around a crib.
  • Although a handful of other events in the National Mall have reportedly drawn larger crowds over the years (after considerable controversy, the latest figures given for the 1995 march attendance is estimated at somewhere between 650,000 and 1.1 million according to various media reports) none of those other events were repeat events. So if you add up the attendance at all three MMM events, then…

I have been following Minister Farrakhan for about 30 years, and have seen him speak in Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, and other locations. And no matter where he speaks, the line to get inside to wherever he is speaking has sometimes been hours long (when I went to hear him at the LA Forum in the early ’80s the line was wrapped around the building three times), and the room has always been full to overflowing. For 30 years, I have seen this with my own eyes, so I don’t have to rely on what somebody else said. Because when it comes to someone like Farrakhan, this is someone you need to see and hear for yourself. I have repeatedly seen dramatic distortions in the media of what he has said, just as I have heard him say things that I quite frankly could not believe or in any way condone. He is without a doubt the most remarkable and brilliant public speaker I have ever witnessed personally, and also the most infuriating.
I’m focusing on Minister Farrakhan because, try as some might, there is no way to exorcise him from the remarkable phenomenon that is the Million Man March. Because without Farrakhan? No March.
So what does this say about black people and the current state of race relations in America, if anything? There’s no simple answer to that question, but it’s interesting to note how the current fascination with Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson is said to reflect the anger that is now prevalent in America. People are mad, fed up, and they’re just not going to take it anymore, and all that crazy verbal garbage spewed by both men is said to be simply a reflection of all this righteous anger among a certain segment of voters whose heads are about to explode from all that righteous anger.
That certain segment, in case you’re curious, would be that segment of whites who cannot tolerate a black president. That same segment who chant “All Lives Matter!” every time we say “Black Lives Matter”. That same segment who rush to defend the police every time a black person is beaten or beaten to death by an out-of-control police officer. The segment that insists black people are almost always responsible for their own murder-by-cop.
That Million Man March which happened last Saturday – and that was barely covered by the media – is the reflection of the simmering anger and dislocation felt by the black segment. And for the third time in 20 years, hundreds of thousands of black people gathered together peacefully to register their protest and discontent without a single incident of violence. I even witnessed members of the Washington DC police force working in concert with the Fruit of Islam to provide a smoothly functioning security operation. I didn’t hear about it, I saw it.
There are probably as many reasons for coming to the march as there were people at the march. But if there was any one unifying sentiment, I would wager it is the powerful desire simply to be together, and to physically see and feel how many of us there are who are feeling the same pain and outrage. And who want something done about it. Sure, we listen to the speeches, and everyone quiets down noticeably when Farrakhan takes the stage. Everyone wants to hear what this man has to say, this man who can summon so many and who has been able to do so consistently going back decades. But in the end, it has always been more about ‘us’ than about ‘him’, even though it never would have happened without him.
And just as in years past, it is frustratingly difficult to discern what is the specific takeaway message from the event as it relates to the event’s title. Compared to the message of atonement which marked the event of 1995, “Justice or Else” is noticeably more menacing, and also a considerably more appropriate response to the feeling of the black masses in the face of all we have seen over just the past few years, from Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown, and so many more. There were frequent chants throughout of “Justice!” after which the crowd would chant back “Or Else!”
Then, finally, came Farrakhan, who spoke for more than two hours about:

  • The need for black nationalism and 100 million acres of land “roughly the size of California” where black people can live separately, farming and growing their own food and becoming self-sufficient.
  • Why women should be covered, keeping the tempting vision of their apparently irresistible bodies restricted to husbands only.
  • Malcolm X and why, contrary to what some believe, he was not in any way involved in the slain leader’s murder.
  • Elijah Muhammad and his personal indiscretions (brought to searing light by Malcolm X) and Farrakhan’s defense of those indiscretions as some sort of misunderstanding of who the man really was. This defense was made more complex by Farrakhan’s seeming implication that some of Muhammad’s wives were from Mexico as part of some desire to “unite the black and the brown” by creating mixed-race children as a part of that unity. Farrakhan also briefly hinted that he himself had done the same thing.
  • How he now considers the black LGBTQ community a welcome part of the black liberation struggle, and that they should not be judged negatively or harshly. This was a radical shift from a position he took in May of 2013 at Fellowship Chapel when he spent considerably more time discussing the unnaturalness and immorality of homosexuality than he did about the issues raised by emergency management and the pending bankruptcy, which was promoted as the focus of his speech. (He did, however, speak more pointedly against emergency management earlier in the day in a speech delivered to the Detroit City Council).
  • The narrow window for America to avoid divine judgment that can be avoided, but only if action is taken soon.
  • Why the word ‘bitch’ should never be used to describe a woman.

Farrakhan often wades through wide swaths of territory during his speeches, wielding numerous religious and spiritual images and references not always so easy to follow or decipher. But that has never stopped the crowds from coming, possibly because he remains perceived as the only national black leader who is not in any way bought or controlled by anyone or any organization other than black people. Farrakhan’s devotion and allegiance is first and foremost to blacks, and black people recognize and appreciate that, flaws and all. Because in the age of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, black folks need someone to channel their rage at high volume. Someone who doesn’t have to receive clearance/permission/approval from ‘the man’ before speaking his/their mind.
No one does undiluted black rage better than Minister Louis Farrakhan.

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